Saturday, April 29, 2006

Magnetism, Ancient

In the Philippines and neighboring regions, the use of magnets by indigenous shamans and doctors for healing and occult purposes is very widespread in both "Westernized" and "tribal" culture.

It's difficult to determine the age of this practice. There is evidence of the use of magnets for healing purposes in ancient Chinese, Egyptian and other texts. And the words for "magnet" and "magnetic compass" in Southeast Asia tend to be indigenous ones.

From Austronesia, comes a term often linked with ancient ideas of magnetism. The Polynesian word mana is used in anthropological literature to describe a type of non-personal, unconscious energy that can be found in all objects.

Scholars have long recognized the similiarity of mana with early European concepts of "animal magnetism" and "personal magnetism."

Mana has several aspects that resemble electricity and magnetic energy. It is raw energy without personality that can be found in all things.

However, mana is especially linked with place i.e. geographic location, and thus the Earth. The concept of the energy of the earth reminds us of geomagnetic energy especially when we consider some other aspects of the term.

Like electromagnetic fields, mana radiates from a place, person or object. As one approaches a powerful source, the mana can be detected as becoming stronger the closer one comes to the destination.

Too much mana can be harmful, and to escape excessive radiation one distances oneself from the source.

Like electricity, mana can flow from one object to another. And this flow can also be manipulated by various means, either increasing or decreasing the quantity.

And mana, like magnetism, has the power of attraction. Places or persons with great mana attract other persons and objects.

In the Philippines, the term for magnetism, balani means "to attract, to charm." The term "charm" here also refers strongly to magical practices meant to attract others.

Indigenous healers in this region use a form of "laying on of the hands" in which the healer's hands act as healing instruments as if charged with a mysterious magnetic energy.

Following the advent of magnetic philosophy in Europe with the works of William Gilbert, the idea of magnetic healing also came into vogue in among Europeans.

Paracelsus mentions a practice of this type in Magnale. F. A. Mesmer developed the theory of animal magnetism in the late 1700s suggesting the existence of "magnetic fluids" in all living creatures.

Concepts of mana existing in varying quantities in different locations also has some similarity to practices of geomancy, or terrestrial "astrology."

Paul Kekai Manansala


Adam Crabtree: Animal magnetism, early hypnosis, and psychical research, 1771-1925. An annotated bibliography. White Plains, N.Y., Kraus International Publications

Kaplan, F. Dickens and Mesmerism: The Hidden Springs of Fiction, Princeton University Press, 1975.